Daily Archives: November 8, 1991

What Is a Jew? [EUROPA EUROPA]

From the Chicago Reader (November 8, 1991). — J.R.


**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Agnieszka Holland

With Marco Hofschneider, Rene Hofschneider, Delphine Forest, Andre Wilms, Julie Delpy, and Halina Labonarska.

Solomon Perel was born in Peine, Germany, in 1925, the youngest child of a Polish-Jewish shoe merchant. He survived World War II first in a Soviet orphanage (1938-41), then by posing as an Aryan at the most prestigious and elite Hitler youth school in Germany. The only giveaway sign of his Jewish identity was his circumcised penis, which he had to keep hidden at all costs. (At one point, he even made an amateurish and painful surgical attempt to “uncircumcise” himself.) After the war, he emigrated to Palestine as a Jew. At the end of Europa Europa — director Agnieszka Holland’s adaptation of Perel’s autobiography — the real Solomon Perel tells us, “When I had sons, I didn’t hesitate to circumcise them.” The film concludes by showing us Perel today, at age 65, in Israel, singing a familiar Hebrew song.

But are we truly convinced of his Jewishness? On the prosaic level we certainly are: obviously Solly Perel is a Jew. But on the philosophical, meditative level established during the course of this remarkable film, we may be somewhat less certain.… Read more »

Short Films

John Greyson’s hilarious and wonderful The Making of “Monsters” from Canada is an audacious pseudodocumentary–a short about the making of a musical about a gay-bashing incident that results in murder. If that sounds offbeat, consider that the two creative minds behind the musical are George Lukas (identified as the Marxist literary critic who directed American Graffiti and Star Wars) and Bertolt Brecht (played by a catfish in a tank). If the brilliance doesn’t quite sustain itself over half an hour, there are still some pretty far-out musical numbers. Equally worth seeing are four shorts by Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho): The Discipline of DE (1978), a very literal and funny adaptation of a William S. Burroughs text that deftly mixes essay and fiction, reminiscent of Jane Campion’s Passionless Moments; My Friend (1983) and My New Friend (1985), two three-minute diary entries about short-lived pickups; and the recent Thanksgiving Prayer, starring Burroughs, which I haven’t seen but which sounds fabulous. As if this weren’t enough, the program also includes Christopher Newby’s strikingly shot English short Relax (1990), David Weissman’s lightweight Complaints, Garth Maxwell’s Red Delicious from New Zealand, and Cathy Joritz’s German “scratch-animation” Give AIDS the Freeze. Running as part of the Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival.… Read more »

7 Women

A commercial disaster when it came out in 1966, generally relegated to the lower half of double bills, and dismissed by most critics, John Ford’s magnificent last feature is surely one of his greatest films–not merely for its unsentimental distillation of Fordian themes, but for the telegraphic urgency and passion of its style, which is aided rather than handicapped by the stripped-down studio sets. The film effectively transposes the gender and settings of many of Ford’s classic westerns: it’s set in 1935, during the apocalyptic last days of a female missionary outpost in China that’s about to be invaded by Mongolian warriors (including Mike Mazurki and Woody Strode). Anne Bancroft stars as an atheistic but humanist doctor who turns up at the mission, immediately challenging its sexual repressiveness and sense of propriety with her acerbic manner and lack of inhibitions; she ultimately emerges as perhaps the most stoic of all of Ford’s sacrificial heroes. The other women, all superbly cast–Sue Lyon, Margaret Leighton, Flora Robson, Mildred Dunnock, Anna Lee, and Betty Field–provide a creditable summary of the possible human responses to impending disaster, and Ford’s handling of their diverse emotions–ranging from lesbian longings and charitable instincts to competitiveness and hysteria–is both subtle and masterful.… Read more »